Today, we explore how to fuel the elite football player to maximise physical output and skillset (Collins et al, 2021).
A 90 minute football match consists of a wide range of modalities; from walking to sprinting, to changing direction, striking the ball and jumping.
It’s been reported that players don’t significantly cover more ground than previous, but they do perform the match at a greater intensity.
In doing so, a player would average a heart rate of 85% maximum, burn approx. 1300-1600kcal, of which 60-70% would be through the breakdown of carbohydrate, resulting in ~50% depletion of glycogen stores across the 90 mins.
Understandably, there’s a heightened need for carbohydrate to support match day performance. Therefore, it’s advised that players consumed 6-8g/kg of carbohydrate on MD-1 to ensure adequate carbohydrate is available (muscle & liver glycogen) on match day.
If fixtures are congested, it’s advised that a high carb intake is maintained 48-72 hours post to support replenishment and full recovery. Therefore, emphasising the importance of the fuelling = recovery = fuelling paradigm.
Hydration on MD-1 is often overlooked as part of the performance strategy. Ultimately, starting MD in a dehydrated state is not conducive to both physical and mental performance. Euhydration is.
On MD, players will expend approx. 3500kcal. Knowing this, a high amount of carbohydrate (6-8g/kg) is required. Given that liver glycogen stores can deplete by ~50% overnight, inadequate replenishment will consequently decrease match performance.
Research in elite, youth footballers found that having a large vs small breakfast (500 vs 250kcal) pre-match improved dribbling speed…as a result of enhancing both the physical and mental.
Anecdotally, I’ve found the ‘Law of Halves’ to be the best pre-game strategy with all team based sports…i.e. start with your largest meal six hours pre-match, then taper food quantity going into KO. Therefore, both muscle and liver glycogen are replenished with the aim of feeling ‘light and tight.’
Players should also aim to start the match in a euhydrated state. To achieve this, a starting point would be to drink 5-7mL/kg in the hours leading into KO.
During match play, the primary objective is to offset the depletion of both muscle and liver glycogen. This can be achieved by consuming 30-60g carbohydrate/hour for the duration of play.
Therefore, carbohydrate ‘feeding’ with sports drinks, gels and sports foods should start during the warm up and maintained throughout. Logistically, this is sometimes difficult, so you need a plan.
Players can lose up to 2.5L of fluid via sweat during a 90 min game; therefore the aim here is to drink adequate amounts during to ensure bodyweight loss doesn’t exceed 2-3%. If so, the increased thermal and physiological strain will be a detriment to performance.
Long story short: Eat your carbs, drink your fluid…